ARCHIVED  August 1, 1997

VAE Nortrak’s job training brings workers up to speed

CHEYENNE – When one of the world’s largest manufacturers of railroad track work decided to locate its third North American plant in Cheyenne, it didn’t expect to find a ready supply of workers skilled in the high-tech process of building turnouts and other track work for today’s heavy-duty railroads.So VAE Nortrak Cheyenne Inc. is training its new employees on the job, with some help from Laramie County Community College, and is easing into the manufacturing process while it brings employees up to speed.
“This product its something like building an automobile – you’ve got a whole lot of parts and you’ve got an assembly line and you put it all together,” explained Al Tuningley, VAE Nortrak’s president. “We’re choosing to do the assembly work first. We’re having the components manufactured in our other factories, we’re bringing them here, and we’re training everybody in the assembly techniques.”
By year’s end, Nortrak Cheyenne will begin installing manufacturing equipment that eventually will make it a self-contained manufacturing unit that relies on a blend of European and North American technology.
“As it comes in, we will take employees and train them in other factories and bring them in here prepared to run the machines, so that by the time we’re two, two-and-a-half years down the road, we’ll be able to manufacture virtually all of the components here,” Tuningley said. “We’ll be very self-sufficient, and we’ll probably end up being our largest plant in North America.”
VAE Nortrak is part of an Austrian-based track work company, VAE Aktiengesellschaft, that has operations in 10 countries and claims the distinction of being the world’s largest specialty track works manufacturer.
The $9 million, 50,000-square-foot Cheyenne plant began production in May with 34 employees – five from Nortrak’s other North American plants in British Columbia and Alabama and 29 from Cheyenne. It hopes to be at 70 to 80 employees by the end of the year, reach 150 by the end of 1999 and eventually reach 200.
“We have not been able to hire people with the specific skills we need, but we have been able to get people with basic skills,” Tuningley said. “We’re pretty picky about who we hire because we expect to keep people for a long time. They go though an education program, a screening program, and we bring them on board, and they work on a probationary basis for a number of months, and finally they’re selected,” he said.
Nortrak’s plan to train its new employees in-house hit a snag when weather slowed construction of the plant, but Laramie County Community College came to the rescue, offering space for a “frog shop” to train employees in the art of assembling railroad turnouts. (A “frog” is the portion of the turnout where wheels cross the inside rail of the main track).
“We worked our employees there for about three months, just teaching them about the work that had to be done so they were prepared and we could get off to a better kick start,” Tuningley said.
Afterwards, he credited the bad weather with bringing Nortrak closer to the community.
“It’s funny because when times don’t always work out, you end up dealing with local people more and you really get to know them,” he said. “This is a great community. People have really bent over backwards to give us the help we needed to get us going.”
Now that Nortrak is operational, most of its training will be at the plant, but Tuningley said the prospect of some night-school classes at the college remains a possibility.
“We expect the number of employees here to grow significantly, so we do have to do training – but mostly in-house training,” he said.

CHEYENNE – When one of the world’s largest manufacturers of railroad track work decided to locate its third North American plant in Cheyenne, it didn’t expect to find a ready supply of workers skilled in the high-tech process of building turnouts and other track work for today’s heavy-duty railroads.So VAE Nortrak Cheyenne Inc. is training its new employees on the job, with some help from Laramie County Community College, and is easing into the manufacturing process while it brings employees up to speed.
“This product its something like building an automobile – you’ve got a whole lot of parts and…

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